Anime Analogues: Live Action Sketches!

So around this time last year, I posted a sort of experimental project called A Series of Tubes, where I went over the many different ways a certain anime… Azumanga Daioh, for that one… Had been represented outside of the official release. I promised that I’d do another installment at some point over the next year, but unfortunately, this has never happened, as whenever I’d feel some sort of inspiration to start putting a list together, something else would come up, be it other projects or real life issues. Not gonna lie, the low number of views has also put a bit of a damper on my enthusiasm for a follow-up.

I did, however, have one planned The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and while I might jump on that idea somewhere in the future… The list of videos is floating around SOMEWHERE in my stockpile… I was able to form a much more interesting idea out of the material I’d collected, and I started piecing together a much simpler and far more interesting idea for an alternative series: Instead of waiting for an anime’s assortment of AMV’s to entice me the way that Azumanga Daioh’s did, I could instead take a much more focused look at the weird little oddities that different anime have attached to them!

Thus, Anime Analogues was conceived, and for the first installment, we’re going to be looking at something I’ve always had a particular fascination with, live action content! now, to clarify, I’m not talking about J Drama adaptations, although I might look at a few of them in the future. I’m also not talking about interviews or studio tours. And no, because there’s a God and I generally like myself and my life, we’re not looking at American movies like Dragonball Evolution or Netflix’s Deathnote movie. Specifically, we’re talking about scripted live action content produced and directed by dubbing companies to supplement their dubbed DVD releases!

Are they all bad? Is there some good in them? Let’s take a look at a few of my favorite examples… Not that there are a lot to choose from!

1: Bento Brawl, from Bento

Ah yes, the anime about starving teenagers battling it out Mortal Kombat style for marked down bento boxes. I like this show, despite it’s noteworthy flaws, but I just don’t feel like there were enough Bento fight scenes in it. Well, funimation must have heard my cries, because on the special features section of disk 2, we get to see a bunch of real life actors… Including one legit voice actor, Joel Mcdonald. The other named fighter? Justin Rojas, a Funimation employee. My research says “Director of Social Strategy & Development,” and I have not the faintest clue what that means, but hey, he’s our other featured fighter.

This three minute clip begins as a bunch of Funimation employees(I’m assuming, I can’t get any names aside from the two) standing around an empty area of the office… Or who knows where… With half of them interacting with a couple of magazine racks and lazily-put-together merchandise shelves, all while a VERY American looking interpretation of a Bento box sits on a pedestal. They were clearly trying to make this food look like Japanese food, but does any of it look appetizing? Those hot dog octopi look about as faithfully adapted as Yugioh was. Anyway, some random guy comes out with a $1 sticker from either the stationary or hardware department, depending what Walmart they went to for supplies for their last garage sale, and the fight commences!

Right off the bat, I’d just like to say how confused I am over what the hell they thought they were making with this. Based on the attitudes of the actors, it clearly had the relaxed, low standards, ‘criticism is inherently negative’ approach that their writing’s been under lately, but they clearly wanted to shoot and edit it with some sense of quality. The action is terrible, and while the editor used constant cuts to make the central fight between Justin and Joel look at least barely watchable, the action going on behind them looks so fake that it makes WWE look like UFC. The kind of fighting happening in the background keeps changing from shot to shot, and I swear to God there’s a part in it where two of the female actors are just standing around laughing at the main fighters. Call me crazy, I don’t think that was planned.

They clearly had ideas for this fight, but whether it was budget restrictions or safety concerns, some factor led to it constantly looking like they were never able to reproduce those ideas, and just said “Fuck it,” trying to get as close as possible to their vision. This is perhaps the most clear when the chopsticks come out as a weapon. The way they’re used is just kinda dumb and confusing looking, like they wanted to add special anime-style effects to the footage, but wasn’t able to, or they just didn’t bother.

There are bloopers, too, which is how they were able to stretch this concept to 3 minutes, but honestly, the whole video just feels like a blooper. All I’m saying is, if something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right… So this thing clearly wasn’t worth doing.

2: The Adventures of the ASOS Brigade! From the Haruhi Suzumiya. franchise.

I won’t say there’s no cringe factor in this item, but at least it’s easier to watch than the Bento Brawl. In 2007, which was ten long years ago… Trust me, you’ll feel the years with every Myspace reference they make… A live action spin-off of the Haruhi concept was released to promote DVD sales in the US. I don’t know anything about that, as I didn’t see any of this until I started watching the DVDs, so I can’t say whether or not they were a hit, or if they helped DVD sales, but I can talk about whether these sequences were garbage or not. I… Well, maybe I can’t, because even at it’s worst, I can still find something to laugh at in this thing, and I genuinely can’t tell whether or not the unintentional comedy was intentional or not.

For starters, let’s talk about the cast. The eponymous Haruhi is played by Patricia Ja Lee, former pink Space Ranger(As she’s quick to tell us) and occasional voice actor. Maybe it’s just me, but she doesn’t come off as a very strong actor. I got kind of a subtle vibe that she didn’t want to be there, she felt really awkward on camera, and there were a lot of moments where it sounded like she was trying to remember her lines one word at a time, and playing around with pitch and enunciation to cover it up. I don’t want to be too mean, but there were elements of William Shatner in her performance. Her costar, the rosy cheeked Haruka Inoue, felt a lot more comfortable and natural in front of the camera, even if she didn’t have as many lines, although having them both speak their native languages while ignoring the barrier did feel quite jarring.

Yuki Nagato was played by two actors, the first of which wore the weirdest looking purple bob wig to try and utterly fail to mimic Yuki’s hair from the show(Hint: It’s disturbingly similar to Kyon’s, color aside), and this must have upset a lot of fans, because she was replaced by someone else in the third episode. That, or she quit over the fact that she had to do a send-up to the even THEN outdated “ORLY? YA RLY!” Meme. WAI. The first girl played the role exactly as a robot would, and the second one slightly improved upon this by just sounding bored. Honestly, Patricia Lee’s ability to sound both wooden and hammy in the same sentence doesn’t sound so bad now.

They stuck to original scripts at first… They did some classroom/clubroom stuff, which benefited hugely from the precedent the series set about Haruhi being a terrible director, so all the production issues… At least some of which were likely on purpose… Didn’t feel so bad. They announced their intentions, who they were, and then they took their message to the world! They visited the Bandai HQ building, usurped someone’s office(His reaction was comically awful, like he was about to do the underpaid office equivalent of hulking out), and then Haruhi stumbled through a passive aggressive speech about anime pirates paying for the DVDs to support the show. The message must not have gotten through, because Geneon USA would famously file for bankruptcy and go under later that same year. following this, they’d visit the Bang Zoom offices for a reveal of the cast(which anyone watching on DVD would already know about), and a studio tour. What’s noteworthy about this? Eric Sherman’s an even worse actor than Patty.

Then we get a much more interesting scenario, as the girls visit a mysterious warehouse called “Area 42…” Even the most hardcore Douglass Adams fans will be rolling their eyes at that one… and they investigate it looking for Aliens! They explore for a while, actually taking some time to have fun with the concept, like having an alien machine that changes your clothes. Haruka winds up wearing a sexy bunnygirl outfit, as if she wasn’t already the bright spot in the show. I also love how she has to pretend to be as shy as Mikuru when she is so clearly not. Anyway, they meet a costumed monster, and after battling it, they realize they’re on a movie set… No, they’re on a green screen… No, it was all a dream! This was all meant to sell the volume 1 Limited Edition series box, by the way. I have it, and it was totally worth buying.

One of my favorite moments in this series is when they visit the Bang Zoom recording studio to walk in on Crispin Freeman recording for Kyon, and they have some fun in the booth, and you know what? If Crispin Freeman wasn’t improvising his lines, then he was taking the lines they gave him and actually making them sound natural. It HAS to be one of the two, because everything he said sounded genuine, but Sherman still sounded like he was reading off of cue cards. I don’t think they put the line Patty read into the show, but she did get a line in one of the later episodes, and it sounds like a precursor to her performance as Patricia Martin. Yeah, it’s that bad. The visit with Crispin turns into an interview, which was their attempt at evolving the show into english cast interviews, which I’m not going to talk about too much, but Crispin’s interview is hilarious, and seeing two former power rangers unite in Johnny Yong Bosch’s interview is also kinda cool.

Finally, after a bunch of interviews with the shows original Japanese seiyuu, Haruhi takes Mikuru to a Japanese maid cafe to learn more about her own job, as well as to interview the maid there, and along with the Crispin Freeman one, I actually recommend you check this one out. It’s really informative about how maid cafes work, they show you the fact that each maid working there gets represented by a cute chibi plaque that was drawn by a famous manga artist, and it’s a pretty pleasant little visit. This is capped off with one final video where the girls dance the Hare Hare Yukai, and just like every single attempt at it that I’ve ever seen, it looks way too restrained and poorly rehearsed. Paricia looks like she’s doing her own thing for most of it, but at least her footwork is fun to watch.

Oh, wait, did I say final? Because there’s a second season of this. There’s not much to it, as only four episodes were placed on the Season 2 DVDs, and even then, one of the episodes was just repeated with slight alterations(Yeah, yeah, funny. Remind us of Endless 8). The characters have been recast, with Christina Vee taking the role of Haruhi. Not only is she a much more prolific voice actor than her predecessor, but she’s a much better actor on camera as well. It’s a shame to not see Haruka Inoue, as Mikuru and Yuki are played by English speaking actors, which is a pretty jarring change, if I’m being honest.

Outside of the first episode, where we get to see the three of them being scouted by the Haruhi producer for their respective roles(He has the stage presence of a fucking log, by the way), we get to see them visit the Bang Zoom studio again, where they had a pretty clever idea of using Christina Vee’s desire to audition for a part as a lead-in to the announcement of the original cast returning, and then she interviews Eric Sherman, and… That’s about it. We’re told about as the place to go for more of their antics, but that turns out to be a dead website, and a search on the Wayback Machine doesn’t really bring up anything noteworthy or impressive. You can scour it yourself if you like, let me know if anything worth mentioning pops up. I was able to find a youtube video of the new cast dancing the Hare Yukai, and it’s slightly better than the original, but not by much. It’s a hard dance to get right, I know.

And that, as far as I’m aware, is it. Despite the step up from Patricia Ja Lee to Christina Vee, I actually like the first season better, just for purely so-bad-it‘s-good novelty. There was also clearly a lot more effort and imagination behind it, while the second season just felt kind of like an obligation.

Onto the final item!

An Entire Behind the Scenes Story Arc, from Super Milk Chan!

Throughout our exploration of live action anime sketches, we’ve seen something bad, we’ve seen something good-bad, so now, how about we take a look at something genuinely good?

I guess I can’t blame you if Super Milk Chan’s not your cup of tea. It was a really weird, unique anime that didn’t really fit into any established mold, it was abrasive and was populated by unlikeable characters, and that’s BEFORE it got dubbed by Steven Foster, a historically bad writer and ADR director. But to a voice chaser, the live action segments that were woven inbetween the animations are worth their weight in gold.

Yes, for this anime, the ADV studios team filmed a series of vignettes and short interconnected stories set in their offices, and featuring several big names from their voice acting talent pool. This includes the actual actors from the show, like Hilary Haag, Shelley Calene-Black, newcomer Taylor Hannah, the legendary Marcy Bannor, and the company’s three comedian talents, Rob Mungle, Tommy Drake and Mike MacCrae. It also featured appearances from other fan favorites like Monica Rial, Luci Christian and Christine Auten, who, like Hilary Haag, were all playing parts that fell in line with their real-life duties behind the scenes.

The first disk plays out like a normal day at the office, obviously exaggerated, with many interactions between characters that were meant to flesh out both their actual and fictionalized personalities, as well as offering an introduction to who they are for people who normally never look such things up. The second disk has an actual plot, with a power outage randomly happening while the new security system is testing it’s emergency feature, sending the offices into lock-down, and the actors being stuck in confined spaces together. The third disk features one single set that the actors have to keep walking in front of, having their interactions in front of it, with the gimmick being that one of the engineers lost the sound effect footage, and they all have to personally recreate the sound effects for the series with their own voices.

Some of these sound effects include Hilary Haag voicing eggs being whisked and fried, Rob Mungle doing a door being opened and closed, Taylor Hannah doing a gas stove, and pretty much the entire cast doing cat impressions. The best part about it is that when the sound effects happen in the animation portion, their faces actually appear in the corner of the screen as they perform the effect. They aren’t all great… Ben Pronsky’s helicopter blades effect noticeably didn’t hold out all the way through the helicopter’s appearance… But for the most part, I was surprised at just how much these talented people could do with their voices. Monkey and bird calls, sure, but a car crash? I know this all happened in 2003, when the minimum wage was a lot lower than it is now(Believe me, I would know), but still, these people were not getting paid enough. Luci Christian has to put on an act of freaking out from claustrophobia at one point, and it’s pretty sick how convincing she is.

Some of my favorite interactions from these sketches include David Matranga being stalked by three fans on a studio tour(played by Greg Ayres, Chris Patton and Mandy Clark), Hilary Haag’s grandmother being offended at the language she’s using in the booth, Christine Auten just generally being a troublemaker(at one point she randomly opens a door where you can hear Princess Tutu being recorded, which I thought was awesome), Tommy Drake wearing a dress and blonde wig for nearly the entire shoot(At his suggestion, according to the commentary), Hilary Haag hating on Taylor Hannah to the point that she had to hire a bodyguard, Taylor exploiting this for monetary gain to get back at her, Mike MacCrae accidentily flirting with a fifteen year old model, Marcy coming in hungover, Christine Auten hooking up with the security engineer, and so on, and so forth.

Also, don’t ask what’s hidden in Christine Auten’s desk.

Sentai Filmworks, or ADV Films as it was known back then, has always had a penchant for hiring actors who have experience in live theater, coming from stage backgrounds, and it really shows here. The camerawork isn’t always great, it can get pretty shaky at times, but all of the actors do fine jobs, looking perfectly comfortable and natural on film. These vignettes are a great way to familiarize yourself with a bunch of amazing actors, even though quite a few of them aren’t active in the industry anymore. Seriously, Taylor Hannah’s been gone for so long that she doesn’t even have a wikipedia page. In spite of this, I really hope you find a way to check this series and it’s live action content out, even if you have to go a little out of your way to find it.

Oh, and speaking of which, I’ll bet you’d like to know what happens in the fourth disk, don’t you? Well, join the club, I couldn’t find a copy that didn’t require me to buy the entire set for more than 100 dollars. It’s hinted at the end of the third disk that they’re going to be visiting a convention overseas, and that does sound interesting, so hopefully I’ll find a way to watch it someday. For now, I’m glad you stuck around with me for this unorthodox post, I had a lot of fun writing it, and I’ve already started prepping for the next one.

I’m not going to tell you what the next Anime Analogue is, but I will give you a clue.


See you guys next time!


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